Tag Archives: elder care

Searching for my Broken Heart

It’s been six months. My mom died last summer. Although she was elderly, she was in pretty good shape, so her death, while not untimely, was unexpected . . .

We sat in the rabbi’s office and shared stories to prepare for the memorial. Everybody laughed. Everybody cried. Everybody except for me. I felt nothing. After the meeting I asked to speak to our rabbi alone. I told him something was wrong with me, that I felt no emotion – no sadness, no loss, no heartbreak. He said I was in shock.

“I’m not in shock,” I said. “I feel fine.”

“It’s sort of like being in shock,” he explained. “Your subconscious is not ready to deal with the loss of your mom.”

I had trouble with this explanation. “But that doesn’t make sense. I should be devastated. I should be sobbing. I cried more when my dog died.”

“It’s normal,” he assured me. “Your broken heart is there. You’ll find it.”

I left feeling skeptical. I went through the motions, played the role of dutiful daughter, took care of arrangements, hovered over my father, prepared food for visitors, wrote my speech. At the service I spoke with confidence, laughing in the right places and not crying when expected to do so. The tears of people in front of me, some who didn’t even know my mother, failed to move me. All I wanted to do, what I needed to do, was take care of everyone else.

The Friday night after the memorial, we went to services. We said mourners kaddish – I tried to cry. Nope. People visited me, brought treats, and gave comfort. It was nice, and I appreciated it very much, but still no tears. Yom Kipper came and went. Nothing. I took my mother’s things home with me – her nightgown, her cuddle pillow, some half-used cosmetics, the red infinity scarf she wore every day because she always was cold. It held the faintest scent of her.

I prepared myself for the worst Thanksgiving of my life and my birthday the same weekend. The proverbial first “fill-in-the-blank” without my mom. We ended up having a wonderful Thanksgiving. And my birthday, well, I don’t really remember it.

I stopped searching. Maybe I would just be one of those who would weather the death of a parent without feeling loss. Maybe I was so relieved not to be worrying about her anymore that the relief outweighed the sadness. Maybe I didn’t care as much as I thought I did. Oh God, maybe I should go back to the rabbi or see a therapist . . .

I had a plant of my mom’s. It was ugly. I think it had once been two plants that she had stuck into a pot together with a scoop of dirt. One piece of it was a wispy fern and the other a more hearty-leafed thing. I liked the pot, so I brought it home intending to plant something that flowered. But the ugly plant my mother had created seemed healthy, so I just left it alone. I did nothing to it – maybe a bit of water now and then. It thrived. Ugly as ever, it just kept living. Then one day, my dogs made a play-thing out of it. I went outside and found my mother’s ugly plant knocked over and ripped apart – the wispy fern shredded, the hearty leaves scattered across the grass. I stared at it for a moment or two, and my eyes filled with tears. The tears ran down my cheeks like streams of melting snow. The sob that came out of me scared the birds away, and my heart broke apart. I frantically gathered what was left of my mom’s plant and tried to find one root that could be salvaged. I yelled at my sweet dogs who had torn up the plant because I had left it where they could. It was all my fault. My fault the plant was dead. My fault my mother was gone.

Intellectually, I know that’s ridiculous. My mother was old. She had many health issues. But I’m a second-guesser, a “what-if” kind of girl. What if I had done just one thing differently?

Now the tears come easily. When I see her handwriting; when I walk by Chico’s and think “Mom would love that top;” when I see her little soap dish and remember how she washed her hands; when I make the cookies we used to make together.

Mother’s Day is coming. Another “first.” The first mother’s day of my life that is not about my mom. I cry just thinking about it.

A Point in Time

I’m sitting in a dark room sandwiched between two old women in wheelchairs. The one on my right is my mom. We are watching An American in Paris. I don’t think I’ve seen it before. Over the last month, my mother’s health and well-being have preoccupied my life. As a writer, I’m not happy to have my writing schedule thrown off track, to miss deadlines, to feel my creativity stifled. However, as a daughter, I am far more distressed to see my mom decline.

As I adjust to my new normal, I find time to write, as I’m doing now, in odd places and situations. In a strange and sweet way, Mom has become my muse. I’m spending more time with her now than I have since I was a child and she was the one who tended me – keeping me safe and fulfilling my needs. The ultimate role-reversal.

Hanging out in a senior home, surrounded by elderly, is both heartbreaking and humorous. If you think kids say the darndest things, try talking to old people. In general, they have no filters – they say whatever comes to mind without regard to appropriateness. The other day at lunch (yes, I eat lunch here on occasion), an old lady said to her friend, “Don’t order dessert, you’re getting fat.” I nearly choked on my orange jello. As it turned out, her friend didn’t hear her, or she pretended not to, or she just didn’t care. She ordered pie a-la-mode and a cookie.

As writers, we are keen observers – every person is a story. I’ve seen countless interactions here  – a loving moment between husband and wife; an adult child holding her mother’s hand; a family bringing a new baby to meet Great-Grandpa. I imagine the pasts of these old people, who and what they used to be. The man who worked for the CIA, the woman who raised eight children on her own, the military couple who lived all over the world. vintage-1319058__180I think about the lives they were living decades ago, when they could run and drive and use power tools. The lives they lived before their bodies aged, their minds faded, or illness robbed them of independence.

I’m trying to remember my own mom as the woman she used to be – my mommy, my advocate, my champion. Right now, I  can’t, it’s just too hard. But someday I will. She would want that.

Note: I wrote this on August 24, 2016. My beautiful mom passed away six days later. I will be eternally grateful that, almost on a whim, I decided to spend that afternoon with her, watching a movie and holding her hand.

 

When Tables Turn

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I am four years old. My mother has taken me grocery shopping, one of my favorite outings. As we roam the aisles, I traipse behind her, watching her read labels, check prices, and place items in the cart. I ask for cookies and treats, but she says no. I am distracted and don’t notice her rounding the corner. When I look up, she’s gone.
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